What if batteries became easy to recycle?

From smartphones to electric cars, lithium-ion batteries have invaded our daily lives. The trouble is, they’re made from materials that tend to become scarce. And whose supply chains are not necessarily sustainable. But researchers are now proposing a solution that would make it possible to easily recycle these materials.

“If we keep throwing them away, we will run out of resources in the next ten years”assures Gao Liu, in a communicated. He is a researcher in the field of energy technologies at the Berkeley Lab (UNITED STATES). According to him, “There just isn’t enough cobalt, not enough nickel to keep up with demand. We have to recycle them”. This is the problem of lithium-ion batteries simply posed.

And in the hope of answering them just as simply, his team has just invented a new battery material. A material, called Quick-Release Binder, whose action would be to separate in a simple and affordable way the precious materials contained in the lithium-ion batteries from the other components. To reuse them in new batteries. All while making the production process safer and fairer.

It should be remembered that current lithium-ion battery recycling processes consist first of all of shredding then crushing the batteries before burning them to separate their constituents. All of this is energy-intensive and expensive. It also releases toxic chemicals that need to be managed with care. Thanks to Quick-Release Binder, it might be enough in the future to open the battery, place it in alkaline water at room temperature and give it a light shake. Simple filtration and air drying would then allow the separated elements to be recovered.

Some tests before marketing

It is in their efforts to develop lithium-sulfur batteries that are finally efficient that the researchers of the Berkeley Lab discovered the properties of their new generation binder, Quick-Release Binder. Properties that could also be put to good use on very conventional lithium-ion batteries.

Did you know ?

Lithium-sulfur batteries could eventually replace our lithium-ion batteries. They are in fact made without rare cobalt and have a higher theoretical energy density. But they still have a lot of functionality issues that prevent their commercial deployment.

Because binders are used in most batteries. To keep their architecture in place in a sustainable way. And the one developed by researchers at Berkeley Lab is composed of two commercially available polymers: polyacrylic acid (PAA) and polyethyleneimine (PEI). PAA and PEI are connected by a bond between nitrogen atoms and oxygen atoms. It is at this level that the sodium ion present in alkaline water acts, by separating the polymers and thus freeing all the electrode components of the battery.

The researchers assure that their Quick-Release Binder costs ten times less and that it is easier and more respectful of the environment to implement than the two commercial binders currently most widely used. The first tests carried out are encouraging. Others are planned in collaboration with battery recycling professionals, in particular, before marketing is launched. Discussions are already underway with battery and binder manufacturers so that the material can be integrated as quickly as possible into all these batteries that power our smartphones and our electric cars.

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